New SFO flights may boost area business 

Tourism and hospitality industry officials anticipate an uptick in local business as a result of new flights to San Francisco International Airport.

"I don’t think people really realize the impact of Jet Blue, Virgin America and Southwest all coming here within a few months of each other," San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Joe D’Alessandro said. "It really adds up."

SFO expects to see a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in the number of passengers this year from the nearly 20 million it now serves and a 12 percent to 13 percent increase next year, airport spokesman Mike McCarron said.

That could be good news for travel and tourism, a $7 billion-plus industry that in San Francisco alone supports more than 66,000 jobs, according to SFCVB statistics.

JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) will be the first of three new low-cost carriers to begin service at SFO on Thursday. It starts with four round-trip flights a day between San Francisco and New York City, one round-trip to Boston, and a round-trip to Salt Lake City starting in late July, spokesman Bryan Baldwin said.

Later this summer, low-cost competitors Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) and Virgin America plan to begin flights. Southwest has said it will announce its schedule and feeder cities May 11, while Virgin America has said that, pending still-ongoing federal clearance, it will start service to New York and add Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas within nine months.

Domestic carriers American Airlines (AMR), Alaska Airlines (ALK) and Frontier (FRNT) are also starting new flights.

Add to these flights increased international flights by Aer Lingus, United Airlines (UAUA) and Qantas Airways (QUBSF.PK).

Both the low-cost and international flights are likely to increase tourism, Bay Area Economic Forum President Sean Randolph said. Hilton San Francisco General Manager Mark Everton said it is too soon to see increased bookings out of those flights, but that he does anticipate them.

Meanwhile, the visitors bureaus are engaged in efforts to promote San Francisco as a destination to those new feeder cities, D’Alessandro and San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Anne LeClair said.

"What we’ve done is talk with Virgin America about what kind of partnerships we can carry out, and we’ve done the same with Southwest," LeClair said. "We anticipate a big demand, and we plan do a big push on meeting planners in those feeder cities as soon as they’re announced."

Both Southwest and Virgin also said they are hiring, with Virgin having already brought on 200 and planning on 800 more jobs within a year’s time. Southwest did not have figures available.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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